Love that wasn’t meant to be…

Everyone has a story to tell, rub the surface and out tumbles that hidden someone who made a world of a difference to our lives. Yet each of us has accepted the inevitable, that you can’t have it all or have buried the love stories deep below, only to relive them during those lonely moments.

Tom was diligent, hard-working but painfully shy. He met a girl on a flight and for the first time gathered his courage to approach her. She reciprocated and so began a friendship that changed him forever. He enjoyed her company, did things he’d normally never do and slowly transformed from a shy introvert to a confident young man. When their friendship blossomed into love, he proposed. For the first time he was willing to assert his feelings rather than do his parents’ bidding. Unfortunately the girl got cold feet and was incommunicado for the entire duration his parents came visiting to meet her.  A day before leaving, his father confronted him to say that since his choice couldn’t be trusted, he had to agree to marry the girl they had selected. In anger and frustration he agreed. A month after the wedding, his girlfriend got back in touch to apologise and meet his parents. But it was too late. Today he has a good marriage, he respects his wife and is a dutiful husband and father.

Dick is a successful young businessman. He had a live in relationship with his long time girlfriend for 6 years. They even adopted a dog to share their every day lives. When they broke up he was devastated yet 3 years hence he still writes to her every day. He connects with her at a level which he hasn’t been able to break free from. It’s just something he does, he needs to do.

Mary, married with two children recently reconnected with her erstwhile boyfriend. He was her first love and although their relationship had only lasted a year, they had shared some great moments together. Today she is happily married while his marriage is going through a rough patch. It had felt good to reconnect but soon their conversations became intimate leaving her completely confused about her life.

Jane is successful, charming and an extrovert who can chat up any person and make them open up to her. She fell in love for the first time 13 years after her marriage with someone who groomed her into the person she is today. He made her see herself in a new light, made her love herself, gave her the confidence to fly and explore the world. As much as they loved each other, they fought bitterly. Somewhere they wanted different things from the relationship and they broke up. Years later, she still yearns to make him see what they could have had together. Somewhere in her sane mind, difficult as it is, she has accepted that the relationship is long over yet during moments of weakness the strong pull he still holds on her heart plays havoc with her life.

Love is such a strange emotion. It can make us or break us, it gives us strength to face life yet can be equally debilitating and make us miserable. Love makes it all worthwhile. Love makes everything alright. And love is the only reason why it is so difficult to forget someone or what they did for us. No matter how much one hurts, somewhere it gives us the ability to always be there for the person when they reach out. Tom did just that when years later his girlfriend reconnected. She needed help and he was there for her.

How we adjust to these experiences of unrequited love varies from person to person. Some yearn for it, continue searching perhaps for a clone while some others try not to awaken those feelings lest they interfere with their every day lives. Some live otherwise ‘happy’ lives yet take time off (even if it is for a few days) to do what their heart truly desires – breaking the boundaries – consciously accepting that they do it because they can or perhaps it is what sustains them as they continue to live their otherwise routine lives.

Some unfortunate souls though are unable to break free from the clutches of this emotion and continue to compare their partners. They are either unable to love as unconditionally or resist any behaviour that remotely resembles that of their past lover. Author Elle Newmark in The Book of Unholy Mischief explains, “unrequited love does not die; it’s only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded. For some unfortunates, it turns bitter and mean, and those who come after pay the price for the hurt done by the one who came before.”

Everyone inherently wants to be loved, wants to love another and be happy. Yet it can be elusive and slowly everything simply goes awry. Why?

Is it because most often people are unable to deal with the strength of this feeling? Do they require constant reassurances to ‘feel’ loved? Do they feel compelled by the need for the other person’s love to be happy? Does this in-turn overwhelm the partner putting them on a pedestal they are unable to cope with or makes them feel insecure, inferior and incapable of reciprocating? Is love so fragile that it needs kid gloves to blossom?

The practical mind believes that when we know what impacts relationships we can change our behaviour and thereby our responses. But how often is that even possible? Every person is unique and every one reacts differently. In addition our myriad life experiences too moulds our understanding of similar situations differently and thereby how we respond to them. We might want the same things yet how we express it and our partners’ ability to accept and acknowledge that is what makes all the difference.

fb6491aebf7f60d5ad3257bd0de6a957Unrequited love is unattainable. Then how does pining over it help? Isn’t the sense of loss here over something one never actually had? Yet it continues to be attractive. Perhaps because it is untouched by reality. When things go wrong in real life, the heart tends to attribute certain qualities to the unrequited love, thereby glorifying our perception of the individuals and the experiences we shared with them. As author Shannon L Alder says, “the most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie.” Maybe this explains why Mary feels confused or why Jane still wants to make him see how their lives could have been different had they been together!

Or is it that holding on to the glimmer of hope, helps us make peace with the turmoil within?

After all, as James Patterson in The Angel Experiment explains “what’s worse than knowing you want something, besides knowing you can never have it?”

 

 

 

 

You, me and Friends! Part II

After publishing the post You, me and Friends, I thought I needed to further discuss about that ‘friendship’ hurting the marriage which does NOT involve sex.

Isn’t that crazy? Ideally one would have thought an extra-marital affair with one partner finding sexual gratification elsewhere would in some ways be more difficult to deal with. The betrayal there is evident! The sexual act becomes the centre point of all discussions revolving around what went wrong with the marriage.

But then why is it not any easier to deal with the situation where there is no sex involved? In fact it’s the mental connect with someone else that is wreaking havoc in your relationship, something that Michele Weiner-Davis refers to as an ‘emotional affair‘. She confirms, emotional attachment is equally powerful and destructive. It has the potential to threaten the very foundation and fabric of a marriage. The partner might feel emotionally abandoned and that is as much a betrayal of trust in the relationship.

strayJust friends, good friends are some of the terminology used to define such relationships.  We still love our spouse. It’s not like there’s anything going on. It’s not physical. We just get each other — in fact we help each other understand our own spouses better! An article on the 10 signs you’re having an emotional affair tries to break this down further.

An emotional affair happens when you put the bulk of your emotions into the hands of somebody outside of your marriage,” explains psychotherapist M. Gary Neuman, author of Emotional Infidelity.

Most often emotional affairs happen at work as spending working hours together can lead to familiarity. As one spends more time with colleagues, the conversations tend to move from work to hobbies to life to personal lives to partners and marital issues. Sometimes you share secrets that you haven’t even told your partner or the ‘friend’ becomes the first person you want to share good news with. The transition is so gradual that by the time you realise that you can share and discuss certain things with ease you’ve already crossed into unmarked territory.

Such relationships require as much investment in terms of time and effort and becomes a special bond that is separate from each other’s marriage. Suddenly there arises the need to be secretive about the relationship leading it to potentially threaten your marriage and theirs!

So where do you draw the line?

I’ve known many friends (mostly women) who have opted for having an emotional affair for various reasons – one of them being that it is less complicated. Is it really?

A girlfriend recently acknowledged that she had an emotional affair since she felt emotionally disconnected from her husband. His demanding job, frequent travels and the hours they spent online instead of with each other, they became increasingly distanced both physically and emotionally. She felt as if they’d stopped caring for each other.

This feeling of emotional detachment plants the seeds for an emotional affair,” says relationship expert Steven Stosny, Ph.D., co-author of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, “because when you feel emotionally detached from your husband, you are faced with a choice — either to improve the bond you share with him or to look elsewhere to get your needs met.”

And understandably working towards rebuilding trust in one’s marriage is hard work and less attractive an option that receiving attention from someone new.

When I enquired further what my friend found attractive about her affair partner, she said, “having another man give you undivided attention makes you feel special. Deep down I was upset with my husband for spending long hours at work and giving more attention to our sons instead of me. I felt as if I was only a bystander. To complicate matters, I was struggling with my own sense of self, especially my roles as a wife and mother: Was my working from home making me a good parent? Shouldn’t I be working full-time to add to the family income? My affair partner understood me well and made me laugh. I felt smart, alive and beautiful, sexy even, because he respected what I had to say and engaged me in stimulating conversation. He reminded me of the person I used to be — and perhaps hoped to find again!”

This friend of mine had an outwardly ‘happy’ marriage. She did love her husband and sons but overtime they had become so mired in their mundane lives that their emotional connection waned. Perhaps at some level she had the maturity to understand this and therefore never contemplated walking out of the marriage. And it was this same realisation that made her break ties with her affair partner.

Many will identify with what she was saying. In fact it indirectly answered the question why such relationships felt justified. It’s generally a relationship where there are no expectations other than accepting each other at face value. And the simple fact, of not having sex makes the connection seem all the more powerful. It feels genuine, romantic even, and more importantly, “safe.” Perhaps that is also the reason why it is so difficult to let go of emotional affairs!

I recently met a couple whose marriage is on the rocks because the husband had an emotional affair with a work colleague. Their constant interactions, texts, late night calls and office parties made his wife insecure. Their constant heated arguments led to him berating her, making her feel physically unattractive and comparing her lack of sensitivity to his work colleague’s ability to accept him as the person he truly was. In turn to rebuild her confidence in herself, she went in for a complete physical makeover and had an emotional affair herself! She reasoned that it was her way to hit back at him and make him feel equally miserable.

Interestingly, a friend in a similar situation was actually relieved when she found her husband spending more time with a female work colleague. She felt that having a similar experience would help him understand better her reasons for having the emotional affair in the first place!

While emotional affairs rarely break up couples, they can leave a marriage torn and tattered. “The affair saps so much emotional energy and core values away from your relationship,” says Stosny, “that you’ll undoubtedly feel guilty and irritable and blame your spouse for these bad feelings.”

Sometimes people are unaware that they might be having an emotional affair!

The realization dawns when they understand that with spouses we bond both as physical and emotional beings. If the emotional needs are fulfilled elsewhere then there is no need for any connect at home. The distance in the marriage widens as conversations are mostly limited to mundane, family needs, or children’s needs. When one partner tries to address this issue then the distance tends to increase even further since the other partner feels misunderstood.

I suppose that is also because innately we feel the need to protect ourselves as we’re conscious of the choices we’ve made which has led us down this path and that acknowledgement can be unnerving!

The First Lady – Part II

Since I’ve received so many shares, likes and feedback to the post The First Lady, I thought I should add a sequel to it.

As I’d highlighted every “mother-in-law – daughter-in-law” unit is different and each have their own ways to deal with their situation. I’d like to share some experiences that my close friends have had with their mother-in-laws (MIL). The intention here is not to question if they’re right or wrong – it’s simply to say that they dealt with their situations to the best of their abilities, judgement and the only way they knew how – that’s exactly how it should be. You experiment to find if it works or not. You assume and you might be right but in most cases you’ll be wrong, much like my first experience with my MIL.

Immediately after the wedding, having moved in with my in-laws, I had assumed that this was now my new home and went about re-decorating the house.  I wasn’t wrong to assume that – it was in fact my new home but what I’d failed to understand is that the initial few days was a testing time for everyone. Everyone at home including my MIL was trying to figure out how I was as a person, how they should react to me, how would I adapt to their life and way of living, how much leeway should they give me knowing that I had come from a nuclear family, with a different religious background. I should have ideally given it a bit more time like my friend’s wife did.

They were married in 2007 and since our families were close I’d visited them quite often. Mashi (my friend’s mom) kept the house a certain way – I didn’t like it but it was home to them. I always found it unkempt – even with things in their place, it felt as if something was missing. Even when the house was painted and decorated for the wedding nothing changed. This year in August when I visited them I was pleasantly surprised. My friend’s wife had drastically changed the entire look of the house! She sold some old furniture, bought new ones, and re-arranged the set-up making the house look amazing. After years it looked fresh and inviting. I loved it and I was reminded of my folly. She had taken years to develop a great rapport with her MIL, slowly taking care of her needs and everyone else’s in the family. It wasn’t something she did because she felt she had to, like it was her duty – but she did it because that’s the kind of person she is – someone who loves to include everyone and live for others. Today her MIL is totally dependent on her and was full of praises about how she had transformed the house.

Yes, she too had assumed that this was her home now but she was prudent enough to understand no one likes changes – the best changes are those that happen over time, so slowly that you accept them as natural outcomes.

Another friend who lives independently with her husband and children doesn’t get along with her MIL but in times of need (whatever it might be), they are dependent on her even more than their son! She regularly calls them, is aware of all their troubles, always accompanies them for check-ups and hospital visits – she’s also taught them how to use Facebook! Is she more tolerant or is that just a role she plays? I know her as someone who derives her strength and reason to live by stretching herself for others – she can mend a situation without thinking about herself. Does that make her well-adjusted or a martyr? Whatever it might be the open lines of communication between her in-laws and herself makes all the difference in their relationship.

Another friend lives with her MIL – she’s a homemaker and between the two of them, they take care of the two children. I always felt that they were the ideal “mother-in-law – daughter-in-law” duo till one evening she opened up about the issues she was facing with her MIL. I was taken aback more so because when you saw them in public and even when we visited them at home, you could never sense any tension between them. Nor did their interactions seem put-on. They were genuinely nice and civil to one another. That opened up another interesting aspect – whatever their worries and issues it didn’t concern anyone else but them!

MILs are generally made out to be she-devils but more often than not they’re simply women who too are trying to deal with their situation the only way they know how! Suddenly there is a new addition to the family – someone younger, with a stronger hold on her son and a mind of her own. As an open minded new-age MIL she has to be more accepting and cover up her own insecurities about her changing world. Similarly the daughter-in-law too sees a senior and stronger experienced woman within an established set-up. She’s as insecure about this life changing experience – will she be able to befriend her MIL, will she be accepted, will she fit in?

At times like this ideally one should be calm, believing in themselves and their abilities, no point in repeating the pattern of how they (either the MIL or daughter-in-law’s mother) as young brides were treated – unfortunately that’s not how things work. On either side, there is always a long line of well-meaning friends and family waiting to support, guide or stoke these insecurities! As Shobhaa De in her book Spouse: The Truth About Marriage reaffirms when co-existence is inevitable it helps to mark out the territories, define and share domestic duties, treat each other with respect, giving one another time to get used to the family and way of life. Although dealing with the one common factor in between – the son / husband does lead to some natural emotional outbursts – possessiveness, jealousy and competition – unnecessary power games help no one.

My friend’s wife who is loved and accepted by her MIL, is openly praised by her for changing the way the house looks – even today elicits moments of unhappiness for her MIL. Her MIL feels upset when she sees her son return home to first talk to his wife before her. As his mother she sometimes feels like he doesn’t love her or need her as much. Yet she is unable to take it out on her daughter-in-law who genuinely is a nice person. Now that’s one crazy situation to be in!

Being senior and more experienced, it is the MIL’s responsibility to make the first move. She should remind herself constantly that her daughter-in-law is entering a new zone and needs support, reassurance. After all her reactions and behaviour can establish her expectations from her daughter-in-law and reaffirm how she would want her household to run. Similarly the daughter-in-law too should rethink her own attitude. No matter how independent or ‘advanced’ she might be – she must accept and acknowledge her MIL’s position in the family.

The best way therefore to broker acceptance and peace in the family is to define expectations, be open about feelings, adapt to the rules of the family and wherever possible meet each other halfway.